My new neighbours
It was Friday afternoon. Everything was very quiet and very still. I was in the garden raking my lawn. Then I paused as I watched a large white van arrive; new neighbours were moving in. They were renting the house a few doors up the road from me. The new neighbours spent quite a lot of time manoeuvring their van around; they seemed to take a meticulous approach to the parking of their white van. I had the feeling that they wanted it parked just so.
I carried on raking the moss out of my lawn. As I raked I kept my eyes on the lawn – making sure not to appear nosey. Anyway, I had better things to do than gawp at my new neighbours: The past few days had been warm, dry and sunny and I’d started to enjoy raking the lawn. After I’d raked the moss into little green hillocks I would collect it and then take it into the nearby field and pile it up next to the hops and the nettles; by now there was quite a large mound of newly raked moss on the edge of the field. I liked the idea of having created a wonderful nesting area for the little mice that lived in the nearby hedgerows. There was so much moss that I could imagine the mice living the dream and playing songs like ‘Some velvet morning’ or ‘Sunny afternoon’ or ‘Nights in white satin.’ And the mice could even have their very own ‘Itchycoo park’ … Yes, I was pleased to be making a paradise for the mice.
When I’d finished raking I thought that I’d better make some sort of welcoming gesture to the new neighbours – so I put my arm up and waved in a friendly sort of way. The new neighbours did not respond. ‘That’s O.K.,’ I thought. After all, they were quite young and I’m quite old. They were, I think, in their thirties and, nowadays, people in their thirties have other things on their minds than having to bother about saying ‘hello’ to people like me.
I mused on the fact that the new neighbours did not seem to have any furniture. Apart from a few small boxes it didn’t look as if they had much stuff at all. I left to get myself a cup of tea. By the time I returned to clear things up and put my rake away the white van was gone.
A week or so went by. The days were still warm, dry and sunny and that gave me the chance to finish my work on the mice’s behalf. All the time I was raking I didn’t catch a glimpse of the new neighbours. ‘That’s O.K.,’ I thought: ‘Maybe they haven’t really moved in yet. Or maybe they’re just discreet. Or maybe they have moved in but they sleep during the day.’
Another week went by. It was still sunny and warm. And still there was no sign of the new neighbours. Then I got a ‘phone call from the woman who lives in Number 22a – the woman who was living right next door to the new but phantom neighbours. She’d been away on holiday on some sort of cruise. She sounded in a bit of a state.
‘Can I come to see you?’ she asked.
‘Yes – of course,’ I replied.
‘I’ll be with you in half an hour,’ she said.
Half an hour went by and the doorbell rang. She didn’t waste any time telling me about her cruise. She was really focussed. She didn’t even look at me: that’s how much she wanted to stay focussed on whatever it was that she was thinking about.
‘Something’s not right,’ she began. ‘Those new neighbours; there never seems to be anyone there – except the upstairs lights are on all the time.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘And they’ve put blinds up – so no one can see into the house. But someone must be in because I heard the lavatory flush last night.’
‘O.K.,’ I said. ‘Yes, I suppose it is a bit strange. I haven’t seen anyone come or go and there are no cars parked at the back or the front of the house. Maybe it’s some computer freaks who spend all day and all night glued to their screens. Maybe they’re programmers or something.’
But my neighbour didn’t buy this.
‘O.K.,’ I said. ‘Maybe they’re running some sort of inter-net business and they need to spend all their time responding to messages – that sort of thing.’
But my neighbour didn’t buy this either.
‘O.K.,’ I said: ‘Maybe they’re running some sort of people-smuggling racket.’
By now I was beginning to run out of ideas.
‘Well,’ said my neighbour, ‘You never know what people get up to these days. I mean, it could be anything.’
Then my neighbour told me that she’d become obsessed with the mystery surrounding her new neighbours:
‘I’m getting up in the middle of the night and going outside and looking up at their bedroom and it’s driving me crazy.’
‘Oh,’ I said: ‘That’s not good. If it helps I’ll keep an eye on whatever might be going on.’
‘Should I tell the police?’ she asked.
‘Well, they are supposed to be concerned about their ‘community’ so it might be a good idea. If some poor kids are locked up in the house, if people are there against their will – then it would be wrong of us not to have taken some sort of action.’ [My hypothesis about people-trafficking was still alive and well.]
As I said this, something seemed to lift itself from my neighbour’s mind. She looked relieved. She looked reassured: ‘I think I’ll ‘phone the police’ she said. ‘One never knows …’ And then she left.
A few days went by; late one afternoon I noticed a large white police van parked outside the new neighbours’ house. Then there was a knock at my door; I opened the door; a police officer was standing on my doorstep; he was in bit of a state. He looked like he’d won the lottery.
‘We’ve just done a raid on Number 22,’ he said. ‘We’d been keeping it under surveillance and we just broke down the door and we found a full-scale cannabis factory.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
He went on for a while about all the details of the raid; he couldn’t stop talking. It turned out that his role had been to wait at the back of the garden in case any of the cannabis farm-hands ‘did a runner’.
I asked him how many people had been in the house:
‘There was only one,’ he said. ‘And he’s from somewhere like Korea. He doesn’t speak any English. We’ve arrested him and taken him into custody.’ He told me that when he saw all the plants it ‘got the adrenaline going.’ He told me that it was a ‘pretty full-on cannabis factory’. Apparently it was a big deal because there had been something like 100 cannabis plants in the house. When I asked him how the police had worked out that it was likely to be a cannabis factory he said: ‘My colleague had a heat sensor gun and when he aimed it at the roof of Number 22 the heat sensor device went into overdrive, went off the scale. That’s how we knew it must be a cannabis factory.’ The police officer was still very excited. Usually he doesn’t have that much to do – because, as in life generally, not much happens. So the discovery of a cannabis factory (even if he was crouching behind the back gate of No. 22 whilst the front door was being pole-axed) had restored to him the idea that the war on crime was being fought and won. After a while he got up to go so that he could tell all the people in the street why a large white police van was parked outside Number 22. The whole thing struck me as a kind of tragedy. I wondered what would happen to the Korean who spoke no English and who had passed the last few days shut away minding a few dozen cannabis plants.
My neighbour’s husband spoke to me a few days later. He was really pleased – in fact, he was in an exuberant mood. Why? It was because the police had seized all the contents of the cannabis factory and given him two bags of cannabis-growing compost. He even showed me the two bags. He’d stored them in his garage: ‘Look,’ he said: ‘Top quality – the full Monty – ten out of ten.’ And he went off chuckling away – and mumbling something about how he would be able to grow some great cannabis plants.